How You Can Reduce Medical Errors

Stay safe during your hospital stay with these guidelines.

Don’t become a victim of a hospital medical error by following these 10 recommendations from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

1. Be an active member of your health-care team.
Don’t just blindly nod when your doctor hands you a prescription or says you need surgery. Question everything, ask for studies, find out about your doctor’s experience in a particular procedure. Research shows that patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.

2. Make sure all your doctors know everything you’re taking.
That includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs. But it also includes illegal drugs. Don’t worry—your doctor is bound by confidentiality rules not to disclose the information to anyone. So once a year, toss all your meds into a paper bag and take them to your annual checkup.

3. When your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it.
If you can read it, chances are good the pharmacist can too. And that will help reduce medication errors.

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4. Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand—both when your medicines are prescribed and when you receive them. Studies find that doctors are terrible at explaining to patients how to take medications, what their side effects are, and how long they should be taken. Ask the following questions:

  • What is the medicine for?
  • How am I supposed to take it, and for how long?
  • What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
  • Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
  • What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?

5. Make sure you understand the medication label.
For instance, does “four doses daily” mean a dose every six hours or just during regular waking hours?

6. Don’t assume that no news is good news.
If you have a test done, ask about the results.

7. When you’re discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home.
This includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities. Research shows that at discharge time, doctors think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should or shouldn’t do when they return home.

8. If you’re having surgery, make sure you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done.
In fact, ask your doctor to sign his/her initials on the site of the surgery—for instance, the left knee—then double-check that it’s the correct site. That’s what the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to do.

9. Make sure that someone, such as your personal doctor, is in charge of your care.
This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in a hospital.

10. Ask a family member or friend to be there with you and to be your advocate (someone who can help get things done and speak up for you if you can’t). Even if you think you don’t need help now, you might need it later.

Plus:
First Aid: Fact or Fiction?
12 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
4 Dos and Don’ts in an Emergency

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest